We are so excited to finally be moving and traveling on our own. Follow our blog as we adventure around the country! We hope that you will enjoy reading our story just as much as we are experiencing it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

I am back to haunt you!Just thought you might want to know.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Ecuador Day 5 - Cuenca, Paute, Gualaceo, Chordeleg and more

23 May 2012: The plan for today was to go to the valley regions around Paute and Gualeco (pronounced pow-tey and wal-a-se-yo).  These are areas to the east of Cuenca down the river valleys where the Cuenca river becomes the Paute river which flows to the Amazon river to the east.  Ana Cecila, Fernanda's sister-in-law and good friend, is a relator and was willing to show us places all over the area.  She doesn't speak much english, so when she found out she was taking two Americans she hired an interpreter for $75 for the half day.  This was a suprise to us and we said we were willing to do without and work with our spanish and writing things down.  When we told her that she relayed the message to her car and the interpreter, Rosa, decided to go along for fun anyways.  Rosa turned out to be a wonderful asset, since her english was so good (she has a PhD in English Literature and taught it in high school for 20 years) and she actually grew up in the area we were looking at, she was telling us all sorts of wonderful "native" information about the area.  I tried to buy her and the rest of the group lunch but we were crunched for time at the end of the trip so I hope I get to repay her sometime for coming along.  Also along with us was Lule as the driver.  She did the driving and Ana Cecelia did the talking on the phone. They were a good team.  Rosa told us about a place at the coast near the city of Salinas that was right on the beach for $80k, which sounded wonderful.  She said it wasn't hot because of the constant cool breezes and that the Routa del Sol (The Sun Highway) that runs along the coast is amazingly beautiful and very nice since the new roads have gone in. This corresponds with what Fernanda was saying, that this is a MUST do trip.  Rosa also had American (gringo) friends that built a house in a development especially for gringos, by gringos, in the Yungilla valley (yun-gee-ya).  This interested me because she described it like living on the rim of the Grand Canyon but everything was green.  Hopefully we will get that information from her.  The first property we saw was five minutes past the town of Paute on a paved road.  It was 3.5 hectares (about 7 acres) and it was amazing.  There were two Talapia ponds, three of every type of fruit including all citrus, avacados (aguacate in spanish), chirimoya, and other exotic fruits, a five bedroom, five bath house with a horse tac building, a guardian's house and a party house (me mas gusto).  There were also stable for about six horses.  The property streched to the Paute River down a gradual sloping hill.  The house sat about half way down the property. There was a vegetable garden. There was about 3 acres for the horses closest to the river.  They were asking $450k U.S..  The road was quiet most of the time and there were zero bugs.  The party house even had a huge tiled dance floor.  The view of the valley and the river were great.  I was spoiled for the rest of the day.  The next property was a bit closer to town and there was more crowding on all sides. It was about 1 acre with a lot of mature trees (standard FANTASTIC orchard). There was a nice swimming pool, a basketball court, long drive and covered parking.  It was five bedrooms and 1.5 baths (not enough for me).  The floorplan was open and nice but it was overpriced compared to the first one.  They wanted $450k U.S. also, but I wouldn't have paid $200k.  The first one I would have paid $250k, maybe $280k, but I liked it much more.  The view here was not great either. Next we visited a Hosteria that Rosa's cousin owns named Uzhupud (pronounced oos-u-pood) in what is known as the Valley of the Tomatoes.  It was gorgeous.  The flowers and the grounds were immaculate.  It is a perfect honeymoon retreat tucked away in the depths of the countryside.  We proceded on our way to Gualeco where we saw property number three.  This property was okay, but the house was not constructed well and was in disrepair.  It sat lower beside a creek on a total of about 6000 meters (6/10th of a Hectare or about 1.5 acres).  It had three rooms that were like REALLY cheap hotel rooms with an outdoor shower and bathroom!  The "spa" looked like somebody built a roman bathtub into the concrete and it was full of rust and mud.  To top it off it was next to the Gualeco shoe factory (which wasn't all that loud or smelly, but...) and they wanted $500k U.S.. HA! Next we went to an Amazing farm owned by Fernanda's 1st cousin once removed (her dad's cousin). His name was Felipe and he was very nice.  There were 6 Hectares, one of which was on a mountainside on the other side of the road.  The road was paved to the house but there had been a mudslide and it had washed out a part so it made for slow going there.  He was getting older (in his 70's) and felt like he couldn't keep up the property, and since nobody came often to visit him there he decided to sell it.  He wanted $1 million U.S. which was way out of our price range.  I was beginning to think Ana Cecelia though I was rich.  The property was amazing though with a large house with four bedrooms and three bathrooms, 14 acres and an antique house in addition to the new one.  There was every kind of fruit tree and a orchid house.  There were also 20 milking cows that came with the property.  The thing that I am learning about the asking price and the real value of the property is that it is somewhere between 50% and 70% of the asking price, but sometimes it may be as low as 10% if someone is desperate for money.  Here we parted ways with Rosa and Lule.  They traveled back to town and Ana Cecelia met up with another relator to view the next property.  We jumped in the car with Fernanda who came to meet us.  She has been SO wonderful in wanting to show us around.  I couldn't have imagined a more helpful or amazing family to stay with. The last property we saw outside Cuenca was an 8000 meter piece of undeveloped land with a 50 year old house on it which was of no value.  For the land alone they wanted $110k.  The land was being used as pasture for cows, was relatively flat, had a very long drive along other properties.  The house was a three bedroom two bath and was not actually in too bad of shape, but would probably need to be rebuilt from the ground up.  After this property we parted ways with Ana Cecelia and went on to lunch in Chordeleg.  After a little looking around we found a fun little restaurant and ate.  Jennifer has been really enjoying the Ecuadorina fare and has managed to try just about everything.  I have been trying to stick to my Paleo Diet, but have given up past breakfast so as not to miss out on the experience.  I will reset and heal up after we get back to the states I suppose  Chordeleg is known for its jewelery so of course we visitied the silver stores where things are handmade.  Gualeceo is known for its handicrafts and artisans, but we didn't have time to look around the town much since we had to get back to Cuenca for apartment hunting.  Some pointers for Chordeleg, according to Rosa, Puertas del Sol is a great place for jewelery in Chordeleg and Sara Orellana's gallery is a great place for hand crafted furniture.  The place we went with Fernanda for jewelery was The Joyeria de Nicole.  After Chordeleg we headed back to Cuenca where we met up with Ana again to look at apartments.  Based on what we were being shown she must have been confused about our price range by almost double! The first Apartment we saw was nice for $850 per month (very high for rent).  It was furnished with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths overlooking the Tomebamba river.  The second apartment we saw was very nice.  It was on the 4th floor in the building across the street from the one on the first floor we had seen the previous night.  This one was $650 per month, plus a $150 condo fee and it was unfurnished.   It had 3 bedrooms, 3.5 baths and wonderful views.  The floor plan was also very inviting, it had 2 parking spots and a storage closet.  It was going to be available in June.  The third apartment we saw was under construction and for sale, and it was amazing, and expensive.  For a mere $400k you can own a two story penthouse on the 17th and 18th floors of a brand new high rise building covering about 2000 square feet with unbelievable views and huge terraces.  This was a 3 bedroom 4 bath unit. The fourth apartment we saw was almost finished, but still under construction, down the hall from the other penthouse.  It was smaller but still two stories. It was a 3 bedroom and 3 bath unit for $240k.  If I were to buy an apartment I would probably bid around 50% on this one.  It was probably worth about $170k.  The view and terraces were also amazing but quite a bit smaller.  We ended the apartment hunting there and proceded to meet up with Fernanda to head back to the house for dinner.  It was a very tiring day and there were more to follow.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Ecuador Day 4 - Cuenca, Oh My!

Faster and funnier. We got up, saw Natalie off to school and made breakfast. Then we headed off to the Ortega Panama Hat factory in Cuenca.  Our wonderful hostess arranged a tour for us and it was very informative.  Normal - $22, Fine -$75-$300 and Superfine - $1000-$1500 became words we understood. The finer the straw the tighter the weave the longer it takes, upwards of 6-8 months instead of 2 days, to weave a hat.  I would be afraid to wear a $300 hat, much less a $1500 one!  We walked out with a purchase, but its a secret.

 Next we were dropped off at the Tomebamba Cultural Museum which was fascinating. It is built on top of an ancient Kanaria and Inka temple site overlooking a large area of Cuenca.  The museum was very nicely done from the displays, including the Shuar people, to the gardens and the foundations of the ruins.

 Fernanda was working, but she found time to drop us off for lunch at Raymipampa's restaurant, but she couldn't join us.  This restaurant is in the same building as the Calderon, right on the central park, or Calderon Square. The food was very good.  Lunch, eaten around 2pm, is the big meal of the day.  Jennifer had the "Typico" and I had the "Pechuga de Pollo".  After lunch we wandered downtown for a while before the double decker bus tour was scheduled to start (at 3pm).  We discovered the flower market and the trinket market.  There were a lot of neat little stores but nothing that peaked our interest. We ended up sitting in the central park waiting.  When it got close to the time we used el banos in the church museum across the square from el Claderon and then climbed aboard for the tour.

The tour was $5 a piece and showed us some neat parts of town we hadn't seen yet and we went to the church on top of the hill to the south of town and took pictures of the very impressive view.  These views were only slightly better than those from the bedroom windows so it was a bit anti-climatic.

 After the tour (2 hrs) Fernanda picked us up and showed us an apartment in a new building in a residential area of town that she used to live in.  It was 2br/2ba for $115k, but it was on the first floor right across from the elevator.  I remembered not liking that when we lived in Iwakuni, so although the price was pretty good it wasn't appealing.

 After the tour of the apartment we went to coffee where we met Eva who is business partners with Fernanda in the FourRiversCamp project.  They talked business, asked us our opinions and we offered to help them find contacts in the U.S. to grow the awareness and attendance of the 3 week camp.  They have a very nice website at www.fourriverscamp.com.  Eva was going to get some information about houses that her friends were trying to sell to us, but as of Wednesday we haven't seen anything. Jennifer had a chocolate ice cream and a cafe con letche and I had a hot tea.  Afterwards we went back to the house and made a quick dinner and turned in.   There was a BUSY day ahead of us.

Ecuador Day 3 - Quito to Cuenca

We woke up around 0730 and headed down for breakfast.  This time we had learned our lesson and only ordered omelets and cafe con leche and te caliente.  The omelets were 3 eggs each so they were pretty big and the grand total came out to $14. Much better than $43! 

Next we went out of the hotel to the travel agency across the street where we purchased two round trip tickets to Cuenca for $155 each.  More than I had expected, again, but not nearly what it could have been.  If we had purchased each ticket one way it would have been $89 per leg.  Another quick bit of good information we discovered was that my plan for the return flights on the 29th wasn't going to work because we would have had to leave Cuenca no later than 0700 in the morning to make all the connections.  The travel agent and Jennifer agreed that we should spend another night in Quito on the way out, so we are planning on flying back on the 28th to Quito and then on to Florida on the 29th.

When we got back to the hotel we checked to see if they had any more rooms available for the 28th. They did but they were $209 a night.  We ended up using their business center to make reservations at the Best Western.  The Hilton Colon was a very nice hotel.  As far as I can tell the water was completely drinkable by gringos. I ingested it multiple times and am still not feeling ill. We decided to go over to the office building where Gabriela Espinosa, the immigration attorney, runs her office.  We were a little early so we decided to get some bottled water at the same place we got the Claro sim card the day before.  We went up to Gabriela's office and waited for about 35 minutes for her to arrive.  Our appointment was at 11:00 but she arrrived at 11:30. That gave us about 45 minutes to get all the paperwork intiated and figure out what we needed to do next.  It was 12:20 when we were finished and we had to hustle to get ourselves checked out at the hotel.

 We brought our bags down, checked out and got into the taxi.  It took about 25 minutes to get to the airport, but we made it.  We went inside and checked in, getting our tickets and sending three bags through checked luggage.  We kept one bag each and headed for security, which consisted of a metal detector.  We did the standard, TSA conditioned, routine of taking our belts off and everything else, but I decided to leave my running shoes on.  There was no problem with the metal detector and the security didn't hassle us at all.  We made our way to the gate and sat down.  In less than 5 minutes they were calling for us to board. We had cut it about as close as you can and still make it!

  We walked out onto a painted pathway on the tarmac towards the TAME Embrarer190 which would take us on the 45 minute flight to Cuenca.  We got on board and were seated. The crew was very professional and efficient and we actually took off 5 minutes early.  We circled south over Quito and climbed through the clouds.  Just as I thought we should be leveling off we were starting our descent.  I didn't see the volcano that is supposedly errupting. Maybe next trip.

  Once we arrived in Cuenca we were greeted by the wonderful weather.  It was sunny but with a nice cool breeze.  After getting our checked bags we met Fernanda and she hustled us off towards home.  She and her daughter Natalie live on a hill overlooking Cuenca and the views are fantastic.  On the way we followed the Trans-American highway to the south side of the town.  We drove past the Mall del Rio and the landmark street Solana and then we doubled back onto a dirt road that led to their house. 

Along the road there were houses that looked like they had been built out of pallets and scrap roofing material next to orchards, businesses and mansions. Like all the houses in Ecuador, and outside the U.S. in general, Fernanda's house was enclosed in a mini compound of fences, gates and barbed wire to keep out... who knows what.  She has two dogs and fluffy, the dog she recently adopted from her daughter who likes to travel and doesn't want the dog to suffer her being gone so much. The other two are outside dogs, a golden and a german sheppard.  Their house is very nice to say the least.

Once we had made our way inside we met Anita, Anna, Natalie and Juanita (the housekeeper).  Anita is Fernanda's mother-in-law, and Anna and Natalie Fernanda's daughters.  Juanita made us a lunch of spagetti since we hadn't eaten since breakfast and it was after 2pm.  I was hungry so I ate it despite my diet.  Oh well.  A little cheating wont hurt.  One thing I learned from Anita is that a proper greeting in Ecuador involves a hug and a kiss on the cheek and a polite greeting like "Mucho gusto" or the like.  Jenn taught me to say, "Eu una plasar."  This supposedly means, "It is a pleasure to meet you."

 After lunch we made plans on what we were going to do for the week and then we went to the grocery store on the way to pick up Natalie who was at dance class.  I got green beans to sautee in garlic and butter and we ended up cooking them for dinner.  Frijoles Verde were a hit, and they went well with the garlic shrimp Fernanda made.  In addition to getting groceries we did a few laps around the town to see the sights. Three bridges, or "tres puentes" is a famous landmark at the south end of town.  El Calderon, The Cathedral, is at the center of town and it is huge.  It has three blue domes on top and is visible from most places in town making it the primary landmark. 

In Cuenca, and Ecuador in general, there aren't many "box stores".  There are a lot of stores along the streets that specialize in a few different things. For example, you will see a paint and ladder store next to a jewelry store next to a cell phone store.  For cell phones Cuenca is big in Claro and Quito is more Movistar. This is important because the minute rates are different when calling inside your provider versus outside.  If you are on Claro and all your friends are Movi, everybody will pay more when you talk. 

Finally we ended up at the house (home), and were ready for bed.  The room on the second floor has a most impressive view of 95 percent of Cuenca, and it's especially amazing at night when the city is lit up like a chrismas tree. The nights are cool and breezy, but it makes for good sleeping. Now since I'm only two days behind in writing I'm going to bed!

Ecuador Day 2 - Quito on Sunday

Wnte managed to get down to the breakfast brunch before it closed at 10:30am.  I thought the front desk person said $10 dollars per person, but it turned out to be $18 per person plus drinks.  Another successful game of "Soak the Gringo".  I was all to happy to have an omelet after the previous days travels, but yikes.  The omelet cost as much as the Salmon I had later that night for room service. The only thing Jennifer wanted on her birthday was a glass of wine with a nice dinner. Quito, as well as the rest of Ecuador, is a dry country on Sundays!!!  Yikes.  We discovered this after breakfast when we tried to cash in our drink tickets. 

We ended up walking around Avenida de Amazonas looking for a place to buy a Claro (one of two major Cell companies in Ecuador) sim card.  Every business was closed save a few pharmacias.  We decided to try to locate the offices where Mrs Espinosa works and low and behold, in the first floor of her building we found a place that sells SIM cards on Sunday.  I bought it for $5 even though it was listed at $3, which I didn't see until after I bought it.  The card was supposed to have some minutes on it but was completely out.  The sim was detached from the rest of the card so I'm thinking it was previously used.  Later I had to go to another nearby pharmacia to reload the card for $5.  At least this time I think I got what I paid for and it allowed me to talk to Fernanda who is our host in Cuenca. 

Afterwards we made our way to the community park across from the hotel and browsed through local wares. The artwork was gorgeous.  If we move down here I could easily see decorating some rooms with those pieces.  I would add a picture but I didn't want to offend anyone by taking pictures of their art without buying any.  The locals had their wares out on the sidewalks and there were a lot of alpaca ponchos, hand crafted hats, Panama hats and leather wallets.  There were local bands, one playing rock while the other was clearing their gear.  We walked around and headed back to the hotel. 

We decided to skip lunch and get an early dinner. Somewhere between the long travel day, the late night, the altitude, and the late breakfast Jenn was nursing a migraine. She wanted to rest.  I wanted to take her to a nice dinner, but the only place that was open was all the way in colonial Quito, which required a cab ride and didn't serve alcohol since it was Sunday. Did I mention that all Jenn wanted was a nice dinner and a glass of wine to celebrate?  We decided to try our luck after relaxing for a while and walk down to a place that was recommended in our 16 year old guide book that my dad had loaned us.  It was closed.  We walked back. Besides getting stuck in the rotating door when we left the hotel we also almost got run over by an inpatient driver who wasn't looking.  For the most part we didn't have too much trouble with the traffic, but it definately keeps you on your toes.

 After we returned to the hotel we decided to just resort to room service.  I ordered Grilled Chicken and Salmon, and amazingly they had red wine available!  The answer was right there on the desk the whole time.  Jenn also got to enjoy a nice piece of birthday cheesecake.  She needed to eat apparently because her headache went away as well.  The birthday experience in Quito was a mixed bag due to everything being closed.  I wanted to make it special for Jennifer but was stumped at nearly every turn.  Fortunately, in the end the day turned out pretty well, and we got to relax together while watching "The Proposal" with Ryan Reynolds and Sandra Bullock.  Happy Birthday Jenn.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Ecuador - Day 1 LA to Quito

I already wrote this once... I will try again. May 19th - We started our travels at 4:15 in the morning.  We awoke after a wonderful visit with Clark and Denise and their beautiful daughters.  Clark braved the LA freeways to take us to the airport, and at 4:45 there was still traffic and road construction.  We found a detour along the way, and although nobody said anything we were all a bit worried that we'd arrive late.  Needless to say we arrived at the terminal right on time.  We checked one bag and got our tickets and then made our way to security... and our first date with TSA destiny. 

 Jennifer and I both opted out of the millimeter wave backscatter machine, which the TSA mistakenly pushes as safe technology.  After dealing with the backscatter technology in the military there is no way I would subject myself or anyone else to that type of radiation.  The TSA has obviously been training their pat down personnel.  They seemed relatively professional.  Jennifer and I agreed that it was the lesser of two evils.  I'm still convinced that the entire TSA beaurocracy is a complete fraud designed to make travellers feel safe while providing zero actual protection.

 We ate some breakfast and got on the plane headed to Houston.  We waited an extra 30 minutes on deck waiting for the weight and balance since the computer was down. This made us late getting into Houston and we had to quickly deboard and rush to the next plane. Fortunately, Jennifer had time to use the restroom, but United Airlines has not impressed me with their operations so far on this trip.  We made that leg to Miami but it was somewhat painful.  We were getting tired.

 Jenn and I got a break in Miami, but we had to go through TSA again.  We had to get new tickets and stand in a very long line at 5pm.  We made the security check and this time the L3 spinner machine was waiting for us, along with a TSA propaganda video tape.  Again, we opted out.  The TSA agents were both, again, very professional, albeit a little bit more "thorough" lets say. The guy pulled my pants down about 6 inches while my arms were up as part of the leg pat down, which he did both front and back.  We managed to avoid that the second time around by having me hold the waistband.

 Once we finally cleared the blue shirts we headed to the sky train and off to the terminal to get dinner and our next flight, on to Quito.  We discovered that we weren't sitting together for the next flight and it was full so there weren't any options to swap seats.  Jenn was way up front, in between two people sleeping and frustrated that she couldn't, and I was in the back on the window... pinned and cramped for four hours. 

We were both sore and a bit tired by the time we landed in Quito at 11:30pm.  Jenn had a headache and we had to wait in line for 45 minutes to clear customs.  The line moved really slow.  Once outside the terminal we resorted to taking a taxi.  It was an $8 ride plus tip.  The Hilton Colon staff was really nice.  They even gave us tickets for free drinks, but it was 12:30 in the morning and all either of us wanted to do was sleep.  We were in bed within an hour and slept in.  The next morning was Sunday, and Jennifer's birthday.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Stutter Start

Today Jennifer and I are going to LA to visit our friends Clark and Denise in Agoura Hills.  We got the kids off to school and said our "See Ya's" to them.  Tomorrow we brave the TSA and head for S. America!  Wish us luck and safe travels... and of course, follow along as we post throughout the trip.


Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The Skootcher Continues

Well, all you Pikey Skootcher readers out there, it's summer time and the skootcher is about to begin again.  This is turning into a summer trip blog... We had such a great time last year we decided to go back the other way this year.  We won't be taking our time and smelling the roses though, but it should prove interesting none-the-less.  Bessy will be pulling the trailer again with the Vanny in trail.  The kids, Jenn and I have had a great time hanging out in Oakhurst.  The weather was beautiful and our hosts have been the best, but it's time for us to get moving on again.  Where to? you ask.  Stay tuned and we'll keep you posted. 

Warm Regards.

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